The 25 Most Important Lawyering Skills?

In discussing bar exam reform in my earlier post, I referenced the results of this job analysis survey of newly licensed attorneys. The attorneys, all in practice for three years or less, were asked to rate the significance to their jobs of various skills or abilities (e.g., legal reasoning, organizational skills, written communication) and various knowledge domains (e.g., Rules of Evidence, Contract Law, Rules of Civil Procedure). Ever since I first saw the results, I have been taken with one particular statistic: The respondents rated 25 different skills or abilities as more significant to their jobs than the highest rated knowledge domain.

After the results came out, I looked more closely at these 25 skills and organized them into five broader skill categories. (My chart, which includes all 25 skills and each one’s average rating on a scale of 1 to 4, is below.) I then led a discussion on the importance of all of this to legal education at a legal writing conference last spring. Some of the colleagues in attendance offered insightful and practical comments that I’d like to share here.

One suggested that the 25 skills are a good starting point for formulating a new course to satisfy the ABA’s expanded practical skills requirement in the new Standard 303(a)(3). Others suggested that my chart, or something akin to it, could be a means for identifying and measuring learning outcomes for “other professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession” under Standard 302(d), or additional learning outcomes under Interpretation 302-2.

I hope that many in legal education will find this chart, my colleagues’ ideas, and the overall survey results to be valuable tools. And, if anyone has feedback on how to revise the chart to make it a more useful tool, please get in touch.

Communication Analysis Research Project Management Professionalism
Written communication 3.77 Critical reading & comprehension 3.55 Computer skills 3.28 Paying attention to details 3.67 Professionalism 3.58
Listening 3.60 Synthesizing facts & law 3.55 Electronic researching 3.26 Using office technologies 3.56 Judgment 3.29
Oral communication 3.58 Legal reasoning 3.54 Fact gathering & evaluation 3.22 Knowing when to go back & ask ?s 3.46 Diligence 3.26
Interpersonal skills 3.44 Issue spotting 3.43 Organizational skills
Answering questions succinctly 3.30 Information integrating 3.10 Working within established time constraints 3.44  
Advocacy 3.24 Decisiveness 3.31
Consciousness of limitations 3.15
Planning & strategizing 3.13


Bar Exam Musings, Part II: Skillfully Changing the Bar Exam Narrative

There really needs to be a paradigm shift in the way the National Conference of Bar Examiners and state bar examiners approach potential reform of the exam. It should not be so novel an idea to increase the range of skills tested on the bar exam (or at least enhance the testing of existing skills) instead of increasing the number of subjects tested on the bar exam. Adding Federal Civil Procedure as the seventh subject on the MBE, as the NCBE just did this year, is not helping. An expanded MBE exacerbates the already heavy imbalance in favor of testing for content knowledge over testing for professional skills

Granted, some skills do not lend themselves to being tested on a standardized exam, but some very well could. Has the NCBE done a careful study of the skills coverage of the Multistate Performance Test akin to its review of the subject coverage of the MBE that led to the adding of Civil Procedure? I have seen little evidence that it has.

Consider a few skill sets as examples. The vast majority of newly licensed lawyers responding to a recent job analysis survey indicated that their job requires them to investigate facts and gather facts. A similarly large majority indicated that their job requires them to develop strategy for client matters. The MPT is supposed to test these skill sets, but has it? My review of the last 10 years’ worth of MPT questions suggests that it has not but has rather focused consistently on basic legal and factual analysis to be written in the form of a memo, brief, or client letter. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just that there is something wrong with having only that.) Moreover, among the documents that MPT examinees are told that they could be asked to produce are a discovery plan or a witness examination plan, but I have never seen either assigned.

Surely, if the MBE deserved review to determine if it needed another subject, the MPT deserves review to determine how it can expand to test more skills and more often.

In the same vein, there is the question of whether and how to test legal research, which has gotten some attention and has been studied by the NCBE. Even legal writing, though a fundamental part of completing an answer to an MPT or essay question, is not really tested on its own merits.

AALS Balance Section Topic Call: New Lawyer Well-being Research: An Imperative to Redefine “Success” for our Students? Presented by Prof. Larry Krieger

Dear Colleagues,

The AALS Balance Section invites you to participate in a topic call about lawyer well-being and satisfaction, with Prof. Larry Krieger presenting his findings and data from 6200 lawyers in 4 states.  As you will see, the findings may have important implications for who is genuinely “successful” in law school, and consequently for how and what we teach as well.  Here are the details.  Please forward this invitation to your colleagues.


AALS Balance Section Topic Call: New Lawyer Well-being Research: An Imperative to Redefine “Success” for our Students?  Presented by Prof. Larry Krieger


October 9, 2015, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. PST

Call-in #:

(712) 432-1500, access code 1062814#


Please see the topic discussion below and attached PowerPoint slides that may be viewed here:

Krieger Topic Call-AALS Balance

HappyLwr stdtBrief3 15 (Professor Krieger uses the linked slides here in presentations for students and lawyers, and is fine with others downloading them for similar use.)


Presentation by our speaker Larry Krieger, followed by discussion


New Well-being Research: An Imperative to Redefine “Success” for our Students?

Hello all.  I’m delighted to be part of the topic call programs sponsored by our Section on Balance in Legal Education.   The call will be based on findings from my study with Dr. Ken Sheldon, now published (83 Geo. Wash. L.R.) and also viewable in final form at:  .  The paper documents our data from 6200 lawyers in four states, and sheds light on the apparent contributions of many kinds of factors to the well-being and satisfaction of those lawyers.

Perhaps the most important pattern and overall finding is that the objective factors typically associated with “success” for a law student or lawyer in our society show weak (even nil in some cases) relationships with lawyer happiness. At the same time, these factors (including, for example, grades/class rank, law review membership, affluence/income, law school debt, USNWR law school ranking, and making partner in a law firm) are all competitive and therefore anxiety-inducing.  Indeed, most of the stress and depression/discouragement among law students and lawyers is typically attributed to such factors.

Complementing these findings, the data also highlight several non-competitive, personal and subjective factors (including authenticity/integrity, altruistic and community values, close relationships, and passion for one’s chosen work) to be the actual, quite powerful determinants of lawyer happiness and satisfaction.

These and related findings should, I believe, lead us to question the very definition of “success” and “quality of life” shared by our and other modern cultures. Since the dominant paradigm of “success” determines the life priorities, focus, and primary effort of most people, if that paradigm does not bring happiness do we decide that it is flawed or dysfunctional?  If so, how might educators (especially legal educators for this discussion) effectively impart this information and thereby shift the priorities of their students?

I hope you can take at least a quick look at the study report before the call, but if not please do join us regardless.  And while all thoughts are welcome, I hope we can focus on two fundamental questions:

**What do you consider the most important or meaningful finding(s)?

**Do you see a way to use one or more of the findings in your work with students or lawyers, whether teaching, counseling, advising, or mentoring?  (You may already be working in this area, or may have ideas for how you might in view of these findings now.)

I will provide a brief summary of the findings, and look forward to hearing as many thoughts and voices as possible given our time.

Best and thanks to all, Larry

Musings on the Bar Exam and Legal Education’s Attitude toward it

I have been studying and writing about the bar exam of late, so I appreciate the guest blogging opportunity, graciously offered by Mary Lynch, which I shall use to share some bar exam musings. Later this week, I hope to follow up with a bit more.

I noted with interest a recent New York Times feature, Is the Bar Too Low to Get into Law School? The feature offered perspectives from five legal professionals, four of whom are law professors, on how best to respond to declining bar exam passage rates. (Scores on the MBE, the anchor of the bar exam in almost every state, have declined again this year.) Two took issue with the bar exam itself, arguing for fundamental changes or its complete abolition. But Linda Sheryl Greene of the University of Wisconsin Law School argued that law schools simply need to do the work of preparing their students for the exam.

Law schools (or at least those not in the very top tier) indeed need to help their students prepare for the bar exam, but the bar exam also has to change in a way that allows law schools to do their part without the deleterious distraction of the exam’s heavy focus on recall of memorized law. Regrettably, bar exam reform efforts over the last 20 years have not focused on the one part of the exam that actually and exclusively tests lawyer competencies, requiring zero memorization of legal rules. That sadly neglected part of the exam is the performance test, which assigns a specific written lawyering task to be completed using a closed universe of factual materials and legal authorities. About one-fifth of the states do not even administer a performance test. Among states that do, the performance test remains the smallest part of the exam, accorded the least weight in scoring. It is in a very real sense the ugly step-child of the bar exam.

The behemoth of the bar exam, the MBE, compels examinees to study and memorize a copious number of legal rules. To be fair, the MBE does not test only for knowledge of law. But every skill set evaluated by the MBE—reading comprehension and legal analysis among them—is evaluated also by the performance test. The MBE’s primary value to the overall exam is psychometric—i.e., when scores on other parts of the exam are scaled to the MBE, the overall exam achieves testing reliability. A reasonable level of testing reliability can be achieved if the MBE is weighted at 40% of the overall score. (See page 13 of this article by the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ former Director of Research.) However, the NCBE recommends 50%, a recommendation that most states follow.

What of the rest of the exam? In every state, the remaining part of the score comes mostly from answers to essay questions, which, like the MBE, require memorization and recall of legal rules. If the MBE is testing knowledge of law (and creating more than enough focus on rote memorization), what reason other than inertia is there for essay questions to retain such a significant place on bar exams? Or to remain on bar exams at all? For years, essay questions were the venue for testing knowledge of state-specific law. However, most states now use the NCBE’s Multistate Essay Examination. And, as a growing number of states adopt the Uniform Bar Examination, several are employing other means outside of the bar exam, such as a required seminar, to ensure that new lawyers are familiar with unique attributes of local law.

And that takes me back to the performance test, the most valid of the testing instruments on the bar exam. The performance test was the answer from bar examiners 20 years ago to the recommendations of the MacCrate Report, which called on law schools and bar examiners to increase their attention to lawyering skills. Since then, while the MBE and essay examinations have been expanded, the performance test has remained stagnant. That needs to change. Through careful attention to the various skills today’s beginning lawyers have to perform, examiners should be able to reinvigorate the performance test and expand its skills coverage. They should also be able to increase the inadequate weight given to the performance test in scoring.

As for legal education’s attitude and approach toward the bar, I think an exam that focuses more heavily on skills through performance testing is one that would put law schools in a better position to help their students prepare. Because performance tests do not evaluate substantive knowledge of law, bar preparation specialists in law schools can easily administer performance tests from previous bar exams to students as both formative and evaluative assessments. Legal Writing professors have been using performance test-style problems for many years, especially with first-year students. Clinical professors use them, and, yes, even some doctrinal professors have too.  (I compiled a list of articles discussing the use of performance test-based problems by law professors in footnote 269 of my recent article.)

The ‘Best of’ Classroom Technology

Campus Tech best logo

Courtesy of  Instructional Technology at Albany Law School

Recently, Campus Technology polled hundreds of education professionals to ask them which products they think are truly the best.     To see what they thought click here.

“Stressing Out in Law School is a Matter of Choice” By: Lawrence Krieger

You can decide whether to merely survive the experience or thrive by refusing to “compare and despair.”

Lawrence Krieger, The National Law Journal

September 28, 2015

Welcome to law school. You just started, and the legendary stress of law school may well be giving you a lot to worry about already. There’s the work, the competition, the other really smart students, the loans to pay off, the job fears. How do you survive and keep yourself together for the next few years?

If you are among the many who feel this way, I’m here to tell you that whether this anxiety dominates your life or recedes into the background is a matter of your choice. In short, you have a daily decision, beginning now: You can stress and worry about how to survive law school, or you can plan to thrive in law school. There is no predestined “law school stress” experience, despite what you may be constantly hearing. Your classmates are going to have contrasting experiences. What will yours be like?

Twenty-three years of teaching tells me that many of you will have a challenging but generally enjoyable time in law school, while many others will be dominated by angst, pressure and stress during the same years. The simple but usually hidden truths are, first, the quality of your experience will be the result of your beliefs, and, second, with accurate information you can change your beliefs and thus absolutely change your experience. What will yours be like?

I am not suggesting a New Age or wishful-thinking approach but a scientific reality that is borne out by published studies of law students and lawyers in the United States. Let’s take a look at a few of the critical attitudes and beliefs that will provide you either a thriving or surviving experience.

As a foundation, we can agree that law school will be demanding and you will need to work hard. There is a lot to learn, including a relatively new way of using your analytical abilities to “think like a lawyer.” (A quick side note though: the mystique around that style of thinking is often overdone, and you will learn the skill quickly in your regular classes.)

The natural challenges of law school bring up your first key decision point. The “surviving” attitude that is so common is based on what psychologists call extrinsic motivations and values. They include typically competitive things outside yourself, such as income, grades and comparison with other people and a pessimistic expectation.

Survival thinking goes like this: “Oh my God, law school is so hard, everybody is so smart, my profs are so knowledgeable. How will I measure up? My loans will be so much, how can I get those few jobs that will cover my needs?” This attitude will naturally drive you to constant worry, late nights and studying most of the weekend, and pervasive self-doubt about your ability to compete for grades and ultimately get a job.

This approach to law school is common, and it is exhausting, but where is all this stress coming from? It is your belief system, not the work. You have bought into the messages that you have to do better than the other students, have to look smart and in control all the time, won’t get a job if you aren’t in the top of the class — and the result of failure will be a nightmarish life. With this belief system, survival anxiety becomes a nearly constant reality that clouds your enjoyment and undercuts your performance, despite the fact that the schoolwork itself is doable and that learning could be inherently enjoyable.

The “thriving” attitude is quite contrary, and you all will encounter students who naturally adopt it. It focuses more on intrinsic motivations — including self-improvement and growth, and relating to, helping and being in community with others — and optimistic expectations.

It goes like this: “I have been successful in my life so far and am a smart person who gained acceptance to this law school. Whatever the future holds, I will be fine. There is no reason to assume life is turning bad on me. I am here to learn as much as I can that will translate into practicing law later; I will apply myself to learning without paying much attention to my grades and class rank, and will try to find my greatest interests for legal work. I will start early with practical steps to support a job search. There is a lot more to me than my grades, no matter what they are. I can do internships and clinics, volunteer, engage in extracurriculars that play to my personal strengths, network with our alums and other lawyers, and build my resume intelligently for the kind of jobs I most want. Then I’ll get busy early seeking a job, and trust the process to take its course.”

There are some crucial differences for your stress level built into these intrinsic and the extrinsic approaches. It will be difficult in one sense to take the intrinsic and optimistic approach, because you need the resolve to go against the common fears and negative storylines about law school. But it will be much harder on you to take the extrinsic approach because of the inherent differences in the two sets of choices and motivations.

First, the extrinsic, comparative/competitive approach is inherently anxiety-producing. It focuses on zero-sum outcomes so there is a “loser” for every “winner,” and you are always either better or worse off than someone else. It also means you always feel insecure and that you lack control in your life, because these external results depend on what other people do as much or more than on what you do.

Conversely, the intrinsic approach keeps you focused on what you do and what you can do, which generates a sense of control and optimism. After all, we humans universally face uncertainty about next year and even tomorrow.

Start openly accepting that reality now and deal with it constructively by focusing most of your attention on what you can do today to advance intrinsic goals that are in your control (i.e., learning, self-improvement, relating well and helping others). That is your best foundation for law school and for life. As you increasingly focus on building now toward worthy goals, you waste less of your time and emotional resources on worrying about the future.

The research also shows that, with these attitudes, you will actually learn more and test and grade better — a true win-win result from choosing wisely where to put your attention in law school.

NOTE:  Drawn from the booklet “Hidden Sources of Law School Street” available from Lawrence Krieger (, professor at Florida State University College of Law.

Active Learning Levels the Playing Field

Studies find that active learning methodologies benefit all students, but the greatest benefits may be to women, minorities, low-income and first generation students. See :   As the NY Times reports, one study found “the active-learning approach worked disproportionately well for black students — halving the black-white achievement gap evident in the lecture course — and for first-generation college students, closing the gap between them and students from families with a history of college attendance.” The studies cited in this NY Times article provide support for increasing active learning in legal education, both to improve all students’ learning and to level the playing field.


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